Disney California Adventure

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

May 2004

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the most exciting attraction in a park that includes such thrills as a bakery tour, vaguely themed carnival rides, a restaurant where you can meet a lady in a mermaid outfit, and "Permaclosed Limo."

The Tower rises more than fifty feet above the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, dominating the skyline like a big, hairy, shirtless drunk in a Mormon quire. Gaping holes in the side of the building allow spectators to glimpse the excitement within, and greatly reduce the cost of painting and maintaining the building. "You're going to be seeing a lot more attractions themed to take place in dilapidated buildings," said one Imagineer. "Due to current budget constraints, they'll either be built that way, or end up that way."

The story behind the ride is that the Hollywood Tower Hotel was once a meeting place for the best and brightest in Hollywood; a haven for the rich and snobby with "999 happy guests and room for a thousand." But then, on Halloween 1939, the hotel, packed with drunken conventioneers, was struck by a massive airborne electrical discharge just days after management failed to pay the lightning-rod bill. The lightning strike not only vaporized an elevator full of guests and guaranteed months of employment for local electricians, it also mysteriously retrofitted all of the hotel's elevators with seats and safety bars and opened up a nexus into -- The Twilight Zone. It's interesting to note that an almost identical tragedy occurred some years ago at a similar hotel in Florida.

Twilight Zone Tower of TerrorThe ride itself is entered through the hotel's seriously-in-need-of-repair garden, from which can be seen a small pet cemetery and a horse-drawn hearse that, rumor has it, was used to transport Rod Serling's body to its grave.

From the grounds, guests enter the hotel's dilapidated lobby. Here can be seen dusty objects, left in exactly the same positions they held when lightning struck so many years ago. There is an unfinished mahjong game, an abandoned doll, a hat in which a seagull has made a nest, and a guest who has rotted away to bones but who still has a bottle raised to where his lips once were -- and you can see ghostly "liquid" pouring down his throat!

The lobby leads to a weird-things-crammed library (where guests can tell cast members clever jokes about whether or not the "haunted room will actually be stretching.") After a moment, budget cuts knock the lights out and guests are treated to a short film in which a computer-animated Rod Serling (voiced by Paul Rubens and so realistic that he seems to have just stepped out of an old Twilight Zone TV show) gives the hotel's history:

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. And dimensions of touch, taste, and smell. You're moving into a land of both show and substance, of things and more things. You've just crossed over into -- The Twilight Zone. Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age, The Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right; a glittering, bustling beacon for the age of gold. Now, something is about to happen that will change all that. The time is now, on an evening very much like the one we had the other night. Tonight's story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction, a mimicked introduction, an introduction that cuts away from me whenever I say something specific about this attraction. For example, this, as those you worked in a basement in the 1930s will recognize, is a maintenance service elevator, still in operation and with its original ride restraints in place, waiting for you. We invite you, if you dare, are at least 40 inches tall, free from back or heart problems, and are not pregnant, to step aboard, because in tonight's episode, you and the people with you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to -- The Twilight Zone (with stops in New Orleans Square and Mickey's Toon Town).

Observant Disney fans will note that six Disneyland-in-joke objects are featured at the beginning of this Twilight Zone pastiche. They include:

  • A door from Main Street, U.S.A.
  • A window from the Haunted Mansion's portrait room
  • The giant eye from Adventure Thru Inner Space
  • An equation used when calculating the maximum impulse speed of the Star Tours starspeeder
  • An unfinished figure from the Pirates of the Caribbean "buy a bride" scene
  • A clock visible in the London flyover portion of Peter Pan's Flight

When the film is over and a collection has been taken up to get the lights back on, nervous guests are led through a hauntingly overthemed boiler room and packed into elevators until they reach the legal maximum density, at which time the elevator's ironwork door slides closed and the ride begins. Each of the hotel's 13 floors (if you include the basement as a floor, which you shouldn't, but they do) is visible as the elevator rises, and on each floor can be seen a disturbing sight from -- The Twilight Zone. These include disembodied spirits of those who perished in the lightning storm, an elevator full of guests becoming disembodied spirits like those who perished in the lightning storm, Burgess Meredith, a digital readout showing Disneyland admission prices spinning out of control, William Shatner attempting to act, and Michael Eisner naked.

After reaching the top of the elevator shaft (and giving guests a breathtaking view of Hollywood Pictures Backlot's horrifyingly bland rooftops), the elevator plunges to the ground with more than twice the acceleration of normal gravity. This effect was made possible by cutting back on the gravity at other attractions (e.g. Goofy's Bounce House) and adding the remainder to the Tower. As if one drop isn't enough, guests are treated to multiple drops, made possible by a computer program that randomizes the experience, from a simple single rise and drop, to multiple drops and inversions, to the hair-raising experience of just having undone your safety harness and gotten up out of your seat when the elevator decides to rocket its way back up the shaft for multiple contusions and injuries. But that's exactly what guests should expect in -- The Twilight Zone.

The ride exits into a themed shop in which newly nauseated guests can purchase such ironic souvenirs as maniacal ventriloquist dummies, joke eyeglasses with easy-break lenses, a kind of stopwatch, and a book written in an alien language that is really a cook book -- a cook book! T-shirts are also available ("Nightmare at 199 Feet" and "It's a good ride" are particular favorites).

Most guests are unaware that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride building contains a working hotel. As originally planned, guests would have been able to stay the night within the park and, after a sleepless night in their horror-themed room, stumble out with their bleary-eyed family for a day of "fun." Unfortunately, the few cast-member families invited to stay overnight during testing of the hotel area had serious objections to elevators packed with strollers, luggage, and souvenirs plunging to the basement at ninety miles an hour, so guest rooms will not be available in the near future in -- The Twilight Zone.

Trivia: Before The Twilight Zone was settled on as the attraction's center, other concepts were batted around, such as The Leave It To Beaver Tower of Terror, The Dick Van Dyke Show Tower of Slapstick, and The Waltons Inbred Cabin of Terror.

More Trivia: In a secluded corner behind the attraction, needy guests can make use of the Outer Limits outhouse.

One Final Bit of Trivia: If you watch the backstory film carefully, you can see Mickey Mouse get electrocuted. Really!

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